Thursday, May 31, 2012

May 2012 Bookshelf

She's Out Of Control by Kristin Billerbeck

Well.  I read book 1 of Ashley Stockingdale's life a year ago and just now decided to finish out her series.  Book 1 must not have annoyed me much if I kept on my list books 2 and 3.  Because if it had annoyed me as much as books 2 and 3 (that review is forthcoming) then I wouldn't have finished the series.
Ashley Stockingdale is a Christian who gives the term "Christianese" it's full meaning.  She is, in all honesty, shallow, self-absorbed, and obnoxious.  Many times I wished I could enter into the pages of the book and smack her.  She's really annoying.  Billerbeck did the Christian single a great disservice in this series by having Ashley so focused on grabbing herself a man and having shopping as her life's love that I fear the stereotype will continue.  So many Christian singles are way beyond snagging a spouse and shopping - they are thoughtful individuals who would rather buy a well of clean water in Africa than buy a Coach bag - even if it is on sale.  Billerbeck had a chance here, in my opinion, to change the stereotype of the Christian single woman but instead she encouraged it.  Ick.
The author portrays that shallow faith that makes thoughtful, intellectual people running screaming in the opposite direction of Christianity.  I felt like running myself and I am a believer! She employs the use of Christianese and has the characters practicing "bad" doctrine.
I'm really sorry I read books 2 and 3 because they were a huge waste of time.  :(  I believe Billerbeck writes well enough to make a real difference in the stereotypes of Christians but she doesn't live up to her opportunity to do that in this series.




With This Ring, I'm Confused by Kristin Billerbeck

Thank goodness the series ends in this book.  As you can see from my review of book 2, I found it to be a painful and annoying series to get through.  I finished it in hopes that somewhere along the way Billerbeck would redeem the picture of Christian single women she had painted but alas.  My dreams died along with the last paragraph.
In this third, and final, title in the Ashley Stockingdale series Ashley is a bride who is struggling in different ways with her self-absorption.  Her fiance's family is more self-absorbed than she and so you can see the potential for friction.  And there is friction.  Again Billerbeck had an opportunity to write Ashley's character practicing some good doctrine but again Billerbeck fell short.  Instead she has Ashley, and Ashley's fiance, practicing people pleasing (the Bible calls that fear of man) and being a doormat in "the name of Jesus".  UM.  That's just a wrong picture of Christ all the way around.  While he was gentle and firm with people and was gracious he was never a doormat and doesn't really call us to be.  "What about turn the other cheek and all that?"  All I can say is read that in context.
I was filled with immense gratitude to be done with the series and now I'm looking at the other Kristin Billerbeck books I have on my "to read" list and thinking that I probably won't give her another shot.  There's so many good books out there that take advantage of the opportunity to paint a realistic picture of a particular stereotype that I don't need to be reading the books that just encourage it.




Restoration: Returning the Torah of God to the Disciples of Jesus by D. Thomas Lancaster

In this "follow-up" to Boundary Stones (for my review of that click here)
Lancaster goes into deeper detail and exploration of why OT observance is so vital to living a NT life.  Technically this book stands alone from Boundary Stones but it serves to be a deeper study of what Aaron Eby has scribed in his book.  Boundary Stones was a great introduction book for this one.
I actually finished this book a couple of days ago but have been sitting on it, mulling over how to review it!  It's really hard to put into words so this review is going to fall woefully short of a good summary.
Lancaster starts off the book by giving a thorough history of the biblical texts - how they came to be where they are at today.  It was a good history lesson for me, I learned a lot in a few short pages.  With his explanation of the loss of scriptural context and why I immediately had understanding of why the OT gets neglected in the Church at large today.  It all made so much sense.  So reading the rest of the book was enlightening given Lancaster's history lesson.
What I really appreciate about this book is that Lancaster encouraged today's believer with the ways in which they were still keeping God's Word (Torah) and reintroducing them to the ways in which believer's aren't and making the case for why we would benefit from picking back up the whole of God's Word and observing it.  Just as in Boundary Stones I would finish reading a chapter and have to take a "think break" for a few minutes to recover from that realization that, in my ignorance, I haven't been walking in God's ways.  Fortunately while guilt threatened Lancaster does a good job of not allowing the reader to give in to the guilt as he presents his case with grace.
I was able to give Boundary Stones a much more detailed summary but if I tried to do that with this book I would make it so nobody would want to read it.  So I will end my review with two thoughts: finishing this book made me eager to study the Torah in-depth for myself and recover for myself the faith God has designed for us - in full; I'd love to do this Torah study with other believers who have the same eagerness.
That being said, I'll say what I did about Boundary Stones - read the book, I've got a copy if you'd like to borrow, and then let me know if you'd like to study Torah together!




Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford

Part of my rating is probably due to the fact that I had a really hard time getting into the story because of my life going on around me.  That being said...I still had a hard time getting super interested in the story line. Even with a busy life, if the story is interesting enough it grabs me and won't let me go until I devour it.  That wasn't the case with this book.  It's so unfortunate because I really, really wanted to like this book - devour this book - adore this book.
It's the early 1940's and Henry is an American Chinese living in Seattle.  His father hates the Japanese and they have just attacked Pearl Harbor.  Conflict arises within Henry because he has befriended a Japanese girl.  Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet is the story of Henry and Keiko.  It starts in "present day" (1986) and goes back and forth between past and present. Ford writes well enough but something, although I can't put my finger on what, lacked in his ability to draw me in to the story line.
Would I recommend this book to someone?  Sure.  Am I going to be thinking about it for days after this review?  No, probably not.  But it was a decent enough read.




Dear Anne Frank by Marjorie Agosin

I had no idea that this book would be such an easy read.  It is a book of poems from the author to Anne Frank, whom the author feels a connection with.  She explains this connection in her introduction to the book.  The book was originally written in Spanish and then translated.  This copy contained the Spanish on one page and the English on the other so really it was only 60 pages of poetry and those were not full pages, one to two paragraphs was the average.
The world became fascinated with Anne Frank post WWII because of her ability to remain a normal girl in the midst of the atrocities going on around her and eventually those that happened to her. She didn't lose her ability to dream, to desire love, to see the potential in man.  These things confuse and fascinate people.  Because Anne was so full of life until her life ended we forget that she was robbed of so many things.  This is one of many topics Agosin covers in her book of conversational poems to Anne.
I'm not a poetry lover/reader but I am, like most, intrigued by Anne Frank and so somehow this book came across my radar in the past couple of years and I decided to give it a shot.  :)  It was not wasted.  Agosin is the kind of poet I can read and appreciate.  She doesn't go for the abstract but she goes for the heart and writes in simple terms and word pictures that the reader can connect to.  I came to the end of the book and once again reflected on the bravery of Anne and so many who had to endure that period of history.




I am Nujood, Age 10 and Divorced by Nujood Ali with Delphine Minoui

Why was this book amazing?  Because a Yemen girl, going against the odds and her culture, stood up for herself and therefore for future women in not just Yemen but in the middle eastern culture that is dark, secretive, and sinister in regards to women.  
Nujood was told at age 10 (or so everyone thinks she was about 10) that she would be married to a man, immediately, who was in his 30's.  Her story takes place in early 2008 when she was married to him and when she escaped and demanded a divorce from the courts in Yemen.
In this extremely easy and short read the reader is introduced to Yemen culture, given understanding about the view of marriage and women in that culture, and given a picture of the courageous nature of Nujood who knew enough to know she wasn't going to live if she couldn't get the divorce.  It boggles the mind of any western reader and many have probably questioned the accuracy of this book.  Just because one can't fathom it doesn't mean it isn't true.
One thing I loved about this book is yet again the doors of misconception are blown wide open.  Cell phones in Yemen? Italian food in Yemen?  You mean they aren't as "backward" or as "behind" as we think?  Nujood's lawyer is a woman who also represented a young girl back in 1999 who had been forced into marriage to an older, much older, man who beat her and raped her so she killed him.  This Yemen lawyer, a woman, obviously has it in her sights to update her culture and give women in her country and other middle eastern countries a voice.
As the title gives away Nujood is granted her divorce, it is the first in Yemen history and a true win for the women in Yemen (since then at least 2 more divorces have been granted to girls ages 9 and 12 I believe).  It's an inspiring story and worth the read.




Chains (Seeds of America #1) by Laurie Halse Anderson

Disregard the genre "Juvenile Fiction" and read this book - no matter your age.  The first book in a 3 book series "Chains" explores part of America's history (1776-1777 in book 1) with both fact and fiction weaved together.  Anderson took fact about our nation's struggle to become independent from Britain and placed within those facts some fictional characters, that could have actually existed in some form, so that the reader is informed and entertained and drawn in to this fantastic story.
Book 1 introduces the readers to Isabel, a young black girl who lives her life serving others for free.  We meet her about a month before the Declaration of Independence is signed and she is trying to find her way to freedom.  In her quest she meets Curzon, a young black boy in the same predicament and yet in very different circumstances.  Curzon encourages in Isabel bravery and she begins to make choices that she prays will lead to her freedom from this life of slavery that she was born into. Along the way the reader, if not well informed on the war years of 1775-1783, learns much about America's fight to be their own government.  Anderson strikes a balance of staying neutral, she does not sway the reader toward one side (although the assumption is that the readers in general would side with the Patriots and not the Tories).  She provides thoughtful insight into both sides of the conflict and humanizes everyone.  So often in war times, conflicts between political parties, conflicts between differing sides of an issue, etc we dehumanize the people we oppose and forget that they to have spouses, families who love them, histories that feed their current stance, etc.  I know that prior to reading this book in which Anderson beautifully sheds light on the people of both sides I had already been considering this within my own life - differing political views, etc.  In addition to bring the human element to the differing political sides Anderson also does the important work of humanizing the black culture.  Talk about dehumanizing - for hundreds of years they have been seen as lower than human and in her series she chooses to make her main characters featured young black people not just interested in America's freedoms but interested in their own freedoms as human beings.  She treats the topic with realism and sensitivity.  One reviewer (on the back of the book) said that "Readers will care deeply about Isabel..." and they are correct.  But the time the last sentence is read the reader is drawn into Isabel's story and cheering for her freedom.
Anderson ends the book with a climatic moment, perfect for the start of book 2 - "Forge" - which I cannot wait to get in my hands.  What a great start to a series.




The Irresistible Revolution: Living as an Ordinary Radical by Shane Claiborne

Wow.  I'm speechless.  I'll warn you up front.  This is going to be the worst review you may ever read.  Why?  Because I'm speechless.  As I read I was forming many parts of a review in my head - and heart - and as I finished the book a lot of what I thought during my read of it flew out of my brain.  There's no guarantee of those thoughts ever returning.
Whew.
What a tough read.  And this book is a timing issue for almost everyone.  If you aren't ready to be challenged to your core, if you aren't okay with being called out of your comfort zone, if you aren't feeling real prepared to be challenged on your lifestyle, oh and if you really truly believe that Jesus was an American and a Republican and all that goes with that stereotype then you should not read this book.  It will piss you off.  You will squirm and get irate and probably either throw the book against a wall or drive a tractor over it or flush it down the toilet (don't do that - big bucks to clean up that plumbers nightmare).
Regardless of whether you agree with Claiborne 100%, disagree with him 100%, or are split you have to respect a guy who says, "This is what I believe and why" and then lives out those convictions by diving deep into the waters and not just toeing the shoreline testing the water temperature.  Without condemnation or even a guilt trip Shane's thoughts and his story will make you re-evaluate on the spot what you do, what you believe, and the why of it all.
A year younger than me this guy has interacted with some admirable people (Mother Teresa, Rich Mullins to name a couple) and he has sought Truth with not just his heart but his very life.  I feel like a waste of time.  :) And yet that is exactly how Claiborne wouldn't want me, or anyone, to feel.  He is very gracious and lacks self-righteousness.
As I read the book I kept returning to the thought that he is this generation's St Francis of Assisi, Rich Mullins, and others who have come before him.  In fact, it seems to me that he kind of took up where Mullins left off when he passed on.  And it wasn't a purposeful passing of the torch, it just happened because God was stirring Shane in similar ways as he did Mullins.
Claiborne is not only filled with knowledge but with wisdom as well (yeah, those two aren't the same thing).  He is courageous because he dreams of God's Creation in ways that most of us have never considered.  After careful study of scriptures he came to firm beliefs about the way God desires for us to live in this world.  And like I said above, you may not agree with his conclusions but you have to respect him for not just talking about them but living them.  Shane is very little talk and a whole lot of action.  And isn't that the best way to proclaim God?
I keep trying to figure out the best way to review this book and there just isn't a good way when it leaves one so speechless.  I gleaned a lot from this book and I also took a lot away from it to chew on.  I think along with other things I've been reading lately I'm going to be cud chewing for a season.
I think Claiborne's ideas of revolution lie behind, in part, this statement from Chapter 1 regarding an affliction in the Church - spiritual bulimia:  "I had gorged myself on all the products of the Christian industrial complex but was spiritually starving to death.  I was marked by an overconsumptive bu malnourished spirituality, suffocated by Christianity but thirsty for God."  I read that and fortunately had already recognized that in myself months and months and months ago so the ouch I received was more that reminder kind of ouch.  But for someone who doesn't know that about themselves yet that statement stings pretty good.  So his ideas of revolution stem from this affliction in the Church that has led to disenchantment, disobedience, disgust.  There's more but I cannot possibly relay it all.  Kudos to Zondervan for publishing this book.  Well done.  It's certainly not a popular topic - telling the Church to get a grip.  So kudos to them.
If you think you are ready to read this book and be challenged to your core, uncomfortable in your Christian skin, and asked to consider making radical changes to your lifestyle think again.  You aren't ready but the fact that you considered it encourages me to say one last thing.  Read the book.  Read it and don't throw it against the wall, run over it with a tractor or incur large plumbing bills.  Read it.  Let it challenge you, see what God might have for you because you allowed challenge in your life.  Just read it.




Friday Mornings at Nine by Marilyn Brant

Really I'd give it 2.5 stars.  It was okay.  Not great, not horrible and I'm not sure I liked it enough to give it 3 stars.
3 women meet each Friday morning for coffee and catch-up.  All 3 are in various stages of life: empty nest, teens, a mix of teens and elementary.  All 3 have marriages that lost the sizzle long ago - if there was any to begin with.  So one of the three, through reunion planning with her ex-boyfriend, begins to question if she married the wrong man and so the other 2 follow suit.  What this questioning leads to is revelations that were known and unknown to the women and their spouses.
That's all I'm going to say about the actual story line.  What I will say about the book itself is this, "Play with fire you will get burned."  The way Brant has her characters question if they married the right or wrong man is an exercise in temptation and we, in our human nature, always give in to temptation.  It's one thing to question privately or with a trusted counselor, it's another thing to test the questioning by flirting, acting on the temptation to see what may come of it, etc.  No good can come and does come from that.  Someone, and usually more than one person, always gets hurt.  So while Brant's writing is decent and the story line is relate-able I can't give Brant high marks for endorsing a very wrong way to go about getting the answer to a question one may have.
Is that a fair review to give a fiction book?  Maybe, maybe not but it's mine to give.




Forge (Seeds of America #2) by Laurie Halse Anderson

Anderson does not disappoint in her second book of the "Seeds of America" series.  She weaves the same storytelling magic that she did in "Chains" and in this book she focuses on Curzon, Isabel's friend from book 1. Employing the same writing, weaving fictional characters and a fictional story* throughout historical fact, Anderson continues to engage the reader and keep them interested and caring deeply about Curzon and Isabel.
In "Forge" Curzon finds himself wintering at Valley Forge amongst white soldiers, most of whom don't understand the fight for freedom isn't just about America's freedom in Curzon's world.  Anderson drew from real diary entries, accounts, and biographies to give us a clearer picture of what wintering at Forge looked like.  It was brutal.  It's astonishing really that after that winter the Americas was able to still pull together an army that could accomplish anything.  Throughout the book Anderson also provides real letter excerpts, etc from all sides of this conflict, including free and slave black persons.  She does such an excellent job of bringing it all to life for us all these years later through her characters.
I can't wait, CAN'T WAIT, for book 3 "Ashes".  However, sadly, I will have to wait as it hasn't been published yet.  Publication is slated for October 2012 but that seems to be an if.  I hope not.  I hope it happens before then.  Can't wait!

*While Curzon is a fictional character and his story is a work of fiction it is all based on fact, unfortunately.




If You Could See Me Now by Cecelia Ahern

Ahern's books have been hit or miss with me.  This one was definitely not a hit.  The idea of the story holds promise but I felt like she took too long to get to that pivotal moment where the reader understands the main character's conflict.
Elizabeth is a fuddy-duddy 34 year old who has taken ownership of too much...unnecessarily.  It has caused her to be friendless, without humor, and a drain to be around.  She's a control freak who drinks way too much coffee in her little Irish town that she grew up in.  She's adopted Mum to her nephew, Paul and one day Paul introduces his friend Ivan.  But Elizabeth can't see Ivan at first, mostly because he isn't of flesh and blood.  What happens then is HER friendship with Ivan begins to change her life in all good ways.  Healing comes with the friendship of Ivan.
It was a mostly boring read.  It had a hard time holding my attention and I almost abandoned it a few times.  In the end I stuck it out and feel indifferent about it overall.  Oh well, you win some and you lose some.  :)




Sleeping Murder: Miss Marple's Last Case by Agatha Christie

Miss Marple's last case is a murder that happened 18 years prior.  As usual Agatha Christie is brilliant in her plot development, character development and of course totally throwing the reader off track!  I thoroughly enjoy Agatha Christie's books, I can always count on her for an easy, yet mentally challenging read.





A Proverbs Driven Life: Timeless Wisdom for Your Words, Work, Wealth, and Relationships by Anthony Selvaggio

This year (2012) I've decided to pursue the topic of wisdom. I've been seeking out what it looks like, sounds, like, behaves like, etc and so as part of my journey I saw this book and decided to give it a go on my Kindle.  It was either free or in the $3.99 or less section so I knew I wouldn't lose out on much if I didn't like it.  Good thing I got it.  I really, really, and really again liked this book. :) "Everyone" knows that Proverbs, a book in the Holy Bible, is THE book on wisdom so a book helping someone walk through the various parts of Proverbs and its wisdom is kind of a must read - after reading the actual book of Proverbs that is.
Selvaggio is a lay person turned Pastor turned lay person again.  He presents his views on how and why our lives can and should be lived "proverbs driven" in language that is easy to read and understand, with compelling examples, and with practical applications.  Basically he takes the book of Proverbs and makes it really come to life so that our lives can reflect its wisdom.  I appreciated almost everything he presented.  The only chapter in the book that I didn't agree with was Chapter 6 in which he presents the case for tithing to the church buildings and large, overgrown church staffs around the nation.  Just like every other Pastor who wants the funds to come in he lays on that passive aggressive argument for tithing to the church and its staff first.  My problem is that I think he, and the majority of other Pastors, have got it wrong and backwards when they read the portions of scripture that discuss tithing.  But is that a major?  No, not really.  I consider it a minor issue - not worth debating - and I'll just let it go.  Outside of that one chapter I really loved the book and what he had to say.
Finishing up the book has found me thoughtful about the different areas of life that Proverbs targets (that'd be all of them in case you are wondering)and how I need to better orient my life to God's wisdom rather than my own or what the world offers.  I highly recommend this book, it is excellent.




Always Jan by Roxanne Henke


This is actually book 4 in a 5 book series called "Coming Home to Brewster" but each of the books could be read individually.  As a general rule I like to read series starting with book 1 and going in order.  For whatever reason I apparently have thrown that rule out the window when it comes to this series.  I read book 2 a year ago and now picked up book 4 without reading books 1 or 3 yet.  Whatever.  :)
I liked book 2 but things have changed a lot for me in the past year personally and so I'm left wondering if I would give it the same review I did a year ago because I'm giving this one one star less than book 2.  This one gets 3 stars, it was okay.  I liked it good enough but it wasn't a book that knocked my socks off.
The title leads a reader to believe it is about a character named Jan, however, two other main characters share the book with her so I'm not sure why Henke chooses just one of them to get the title.  Jan is joined in equal time by Kenny and Ida.
Henke seems to like to pick themes for her characters to work through.  Jan's is aging, Kenny's is aging and growing up (two different things) and Ida's is aging but also endurance.  So the overall main theme is aging in its different and varied forms with other issues thrown in for good measure.  I actually enjoyed and got the most out of Ida's chapters.  Several parts of Ida's story pierced me and served as good reminder.  Jan and Kenny, ironically both my age right now, just ticked me off with their self-absorption and unwillingness to live below the surface of life. Of course Henke develops circumstances that force both Jan and Kenny to get below the surface of life but I still found myself irritated anyway.
I'll finish the series.  I'm starting book 3 and am trying to hunt down book 1 through inter-library loan since my library system doesn't carry book 1. My guess is I'll end up reading book 5 before book 1 is located.  Good thing they can be read separate from one another.  :)




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